Monday, 22 February 2016

Jill Thompson's and Evan Dorkin's Beasts of Burden returns for one-shot, 'What the Cat Dragged In'

In a continued run of happy comics news, a series I'm a big fan of is returning for a one-shot this May: Beasts of Burden, by Jill Thompson and Evan Dorkin. Revolving around a group of dogs who attempt to patrol and investigate the curious number of paranormal going ons in their neigbourhood of Burden Hill, the comic began life in 2003 with a short story in The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings. Three more stories appeared in various Dark Horse anthologies in 2004, '05, and '06, leading to a clutch of Eisner awards, and the title being given its own 4-issue mini-series in 2009. All eight outings were subsequently collected in a hardback collection the following year, Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites. It was this lovely book -beautifully designed, and printed at an A4 size which really lets Thompson's watercolours breathe- I came across whilst working in my first public library job. One of the first areas I explored was the small comics section; working my way through anything that looked interesting on my half-hour lunchbreak. It was case of instant immersion, combined with the feeling of discovering a book so good of which you previously knew nothing about.

I often see Beasts of Burden described, somewhat lazily, as 'Scooby-Doo but all the characters are animals!' when it's quite far from that (even without taking into account that Scooby-Doo fundamentally was about people always being behind the seemingly supernatural mysteries the gang were looking into- the supernatural didn't exist)- more horror-leaning: if it's going to be compared to a TV show, tonally, it's actually more like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It spins the lore of a cabal of 'wise dogs' throughout history fighting malevolent forces, and there being hotspots of spooky activity -of which Burden Hill is one. Some of these dogs have special abilities that are difficult to define: a second sight, while others act as leaders, or simply defenders. Although balanced out by turns of humour and mischief, it's darker overall, with the animals suffering from trauma and abuse, but finding a sense of community and purpose in one another. The strength of writing and characterisation is what ensures these shifts and emotions work. 

Post the hardback collection, Beasts of Burden returned for a crossover one-shot which saw the team partner up with none other than Hellboy, with surprisingly enjoyable results for something so random-sounding. A number of stories have since followed in Dark Horse Presents, with the comic last publishing another one-shot, Hunterers and Gatherers, in 2014.  There's not a lot of it, which should make it easier to track down what there is, for anyone interested. That also makes this new story very welcome. Titled What the Cat Dragged In,  it's due in stores on May 4th: 'When curiosity gets the best of Burden Hill’s cats (and one reluctant raccoon), sleeping demons are awakened and black magic is unleashed on the town of Burden Hill.' As a stand-alone story, I'd imagine it's well-placed to attract new readers, too.

'See You Next Tuesday': will the real Jane Mai please stand up? [review]

See You Next Tuesday by Jane Mai, Koyama Press

Somebody sent Jane Mai a potato in the post at the end of last year. In a series of posts on Twitter, she discussed how embarrassed and disturbed it made her, even as she attempted to interpose the incident with humour and kindness. The struggle between mortification, admonishment, and de-escalation was palpable. It's indicative of one of the focal issues in See You Next Tuesday, Mai's new collection of comics, where in addition to dealing with the perception and expectations she has of herself, she's also contending with the ideas and overtures people have of her -very often via the internet- and the ways in which these interact.

This notion of identity is continually kneaded at throughout the book: at the outset the reader is introduced to a number of 'Jane Mai' personas and characters- exaggerated representations of real and fictitious facets: there's separation and alignment. It's an ouroboros of introspection built in a hall of mirrors that -like her humour- acts both as a form of defense and defiance: in which the real Jane Mai- the truth of Jane Mai, can never really be got at. That allows for catharsis and autonomy of expression on Mai's part, and room for interpretation on the reader's behalf, without imposing a rigidity of meaning on either.

"Jane Mai was a product I made and sold"

While the relative 'democracy' of the internet has allowed people to bypass instituionalised gatekeeping to some degree, the transition of culture from 'in real life' to online remains the same (if not worse in that it facilitates rampant, unchecked abuse). Mai is one of many contemporary artists who have built followings after publishing work online, a feat that often requires a specific level of engagement and giving of oneself in order for it to be successful. The nature of that interaction can feel more direct and personal to the audience, fostering (with regard to female creatives, especially) entitlement and attempted ownership. There's a sense of people playing a part in your persona, a 'we made you' mentality; a collective Frankenstein-ing. Responding to your audience in ways they expect or don't expect is still a response created by the audience, and any giving is parcelling away parts of your self. Ultimately, there is no control over consumption and context in anything that a person chooses to share online. Thus the notion of authorial persona becomes non-existent, as does the notion of personhood. Mai attempts to subvert and turn this digital gaze on in itself by offering packages such as 'the Jane Mai girlfriend experience' ("a box full of garbage") or a t-shirt reappropriating abuse: "Somebody called me a cunt once on the internet. Isn't that weird you don't even know me! That's when I started making t-shirts that said: 'Cunt is such an ugly word. I'm so pretty though.'  And it was a bestseller. "

"I'm sorry I'm not your manic pixie dream girl. Let a bitch have some gravitas okay."

See You Next Tuesday is interjected with scrawled notes, ruminations on events, anecdotes, and quotes, and these break up the comics nicely. At 114 pages, it's not an excessively lengthy book, but it feels dense in a one-sitting read. Part of this is due to Mai's thin pen lines filling the 4/9/12/15-panel grids and requiring a greater concentration (she uses ink too, but the bulk of the strips are done in pen), and part of it is simply the range and depth of the material. The art appears quickly dashed off, yet that lack of polish somehow frees up topics to be addressed with rigorous, incisive attention: Mai's relationship with her parents, the tying of self-worth into looks and employment, sexuality, depression, her relationship with clothes, stranger encounters, sex positions -everything is engaged with wit and intelligence. Her humour ranges from toilet to black to absurd, synthesising with the loose, expressive style to convey a gamut of emotions; and her command over it is total. Mai seems genuinely, easily funny and it's key in making the subjects she discusses accessible, viable. See You Next Tuesday is a showcase for Mai's extensive abilities, and the most comprehensive evidence yet of her significance as one of contemporary cartooning's most capable talents.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Yen Press to publish Yotsuba&! 13 in May 2016

The best comics news of 2016 was announced earlier this week: Yen Press announced they'll be publishing the 13th volume of Kiyohiko Azuma's Yostuba&! in English this May. Many Yotsuaba fans -including (especially) myself- were hoping for exactly such a quick turnaround after book 13 was released in Japan in November last year. It's been a bit of a wait (a wait that always feels longer when it's something you enjoy and anticipate): that marked a 2 year gap between collections, with volume 12 published in Japan in November 2013. As far as I can establish, that seems to simply be down to Kiyohika Azuma producing story 'chapters' at a more leisurely pace; the chapters essentially read as individual stories, and are serialised in monthly magazine Dengeki Daioh before being collated for book publication.  

Here's the official solicitation from Yen Press to whet your appetite- it looks like readers will finally get to meet another member of the family in Yostuba's grandmother: 'Fresh off the excitement of her camping trip, Yotsuba initiates a very productive session of sandbox play in which she instructs Fuuka how to properly run a bakery. But even more exciting is a visit from Grandma! Yotsuba learns how to value and enjoy cleaning, how not to be rude when hoping for souvenirs, and most important, how to cope when Grandma leaves. But don't worry, she'll be back someday!'

Yotsuaba&! follows the everyday adventures of a 5 year old, green-haired girl, who lives with her single father. The cast of the comic is bolstered mainly by the three daughters of the family next door where she spends a lot of time, and also by Yotsuba's dad's friends: the very tall and aptly-nicknamed Jumbo, and Yostuba's mortal enemy, the younger Yanda. There are many 'slice-of-life' mangas, but a recent re-reading of the series confirms Azuma's Yotsuba as truly special. It's one of those very few comics where the tone, pitch, characters, pacing, writing, and cartooning all coalesce in a reading experience that's so completely fluid and natural that it's unquestionable. To make the mundane interesting is a tough task; to make it immersive and joyful yet still believable is masterful. The tilt of 'see how wonderful the small things in life are through a child's eyes' could so easily tip into the twee and trite, but Azuma avoids this through sheer strength of writing: Yotsuba is unassailable. And it's incredibly funny: how often is something still laugh-out-loud worthy the second time around? Azuma's cartooning is really, really good, too- this is most evident in the way he conveys changes of expression- a sequence in which Yostuba breaks something and her expression moves from sweaty guilt to shifty-eyed evasion to outright panic, via a few panels and an alteration in brow lines, is superb.

Ultimately, though, Yotsuba is joyous. As much as art hopes to elicit a reaction from the reader, to actually, honestly *feel* something from a work is rare. That that emotion is a positive one simply makes it all the more special. Ostensibly, what I'm saying is: this comic will improve your life. Get on to it now for instant results.

A boy, a robot, and a haunted castle: Ben Sears' Night Air [preview]

The year is shaping up to be a great one for children's and young people's comics; new Fantasy Sports from Sam Bosma, the fifth volume of Luke Pearson's Hilda, new Raina Telgemeir. Drew Weing's excellent monster-consultant webcomic Margo Malloo is coming to print; the latest in Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series is published this month; Papercutz will be bringing more Ariol to English, while D&Q release further editions of Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro. In addition to all those, there's also Ben Sear's Night Air from Koyama Press, one of the books I've been excited about since it was announced last September. Sears first came to my attention with his comic, Double +, the adventures of a google-wearing young boy and his dry robot companion (who basically a floating box with arms), so it's fitting that those same characters will feature in his first longer-length published work. 'Plus Man is a roguish knave without equal, an antihero in his own mind. His cool-headed robot, however, knows better.' That story, serialised on Study Group Comics, was followed up by a solo outing for the boy in the silent and beautiful The Gleaming Corridor.

Night Air will be a full-colour, 64 page book, which finds the odd duo together once more and on the hunt for a valuable alloy, located -but of course- only in a very, very haunted castle. A little Indiana Jones by way of Miyazaki, Sears' curling lines lend a magical, meditative quality to these off-beat adventure comics, whilst never losing the playful nature of his subjects. Quite a bit of that ruminous tone comes from the comics being in black and white, as with most of Sears work to date, but short stories such as the one he did for the Wacom Pressure/Sensitivity anthology, and a recent Adventure Time back-up indicate a use of colour that adds a whole other dimension to his art. On the evidence of the pages excerpted below, it's something to look forward to seeing in May. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Married to Comics

By Kim O'Connor

Carol Tyler painted “I Am Married to Comics,” a remarkable self-portrait, in the long-lost days of 2006. Like much of her art, it was borne of her intense frustration with the men in her life. On this particular occasion, it was her frustration with 15 men—the cartoonists of “Masters of American Comics,” an exhibition in which all of the so-called masters just happened to be guys, if you can even believe it. The world was crazy back then, and women barely made comics, and probably a dog ate Art Spiegerman’s history homework. Ain’t no accounting for taste.

(“‘Masters of American Comics’ is a landmark and a pleasure,” raved the New York Times. “A revelation.”)

More recently, as part of a roundtable on the unmitigated shitshow that was this year’s Angoulême Grand Prix, Tyler’s painting resurfaced. Ten years on, everything has changed, or so I’ve heard. There are just so many women making comics these days, or something. And yet, as Tyler’s post makes clear—painfully, abundantly clear—nothing has changed…except, perhaps, the eagerness with which Good Men in Comics will seize an opportunity to denounce a plainly sexist stunt.

The denouncements began with Dan Clowes, who, through no real fault of his own, received more credit for the boycott than the collective of women who instigated it. “Fantagraphics Artist Daniel Clowes Takes on Gender Inequality in Comics Establishment,” read a headline in The Seattle Times. Quoth G. Willow Wilson, the face of Feminist Comics™, “He took a big risk and I admire him for that.”

(Girl. Why.)

Clowes’ statement was designed to put the festival organizers in their place, which you’ll note is well beneath him. “I support the boycott of Angoulême and am withdrawing my name from any consideration for what is now a totally meaningless ‘honor,’” he said. “What a ridiculous, embarrassing debacle.”

That ‘honor’ Clowes put in scare quotes (and the “embarrassing debacle” he plainly names) were, one assumes, perfectly fine and legit in the halcyon days of 2015, when he shared the distinction of being nominated with one (1) human woman, Marjane Satrapi—a fact he somehow failed to note. I can only imagine how this cultural conversation might have been different if, instead of condemning the boorish French, Clowes had simply copped to the fact that he had never noticed the (blatant, persistent) gender disparity at this festival…and how frustrated he became with the situation—including his own role in it—once he heard the Good Word.

But Clowes didn’t do that; instead he chose to affirm his own goodness. And from there we had to watch an increasingly pathetic Limbo line of “enlightened” cartoonists, all the way down Milo “How Low Can You Go” Manara—Milo Fucking Manara—leveraging his denouncement as an opportunity to deflect criticisms of his own egregiously sexist work.

(“I have always tried to be respectful of [women’s] role as subject and not object in my work,” Manara wrote. His statement echoed across comics news outlets.)

Less awful, but somehow more annoying (to me), every journalist in the Kingdom of Comics wrote lengthy explainers on this thing that anyone with two eyes could see was just bad. This commentary brimmed with indignation RE: how the cretins at Angoulême managed to forget that some cartoonists have vaginas. In the year 2016!!!! Can you even imagine?

Let me try to explain something, friends. Angoulême does not exist in a vacuum. And those philistines we’ve spent the last two months denouncing are not self-made men (and women, I guess? clearly haven’t read enough explainers). They exist within comics, and comics remains an outrageously sexist culture, full stop.  

* * *

Recently, as I studied Carol Tyler’s painting, I reflected on my own role in that culture.

“Elizabeth I once said that she was ‘married to England’ as a way of creating the identity of Great Britain, which reminded me of my full commitment to the form, like nuns who become Brides of Christ,” Tyler writes. “This painting, with all its symbolism, became my manifesto.”

What Tyler doesn’t mention is that, in addition to being metaphorically married to the form, she’s literally married to Justin Green, who’s widely recognized as the father of autobiographical comics. It’s a sometimes fraught relationship that she’s depicted in her work and discussed on the record with a number of writers, including me.

In 2012, when I interviewed her, I was working on a project that had me talking to a lot of cartoonists. Some of Tyler’s comments made it into the final piece, but just barely. (This wasn’t in itself unusual; I talked to other cartoonists, men and women, who didn’t make it in at all.) We had talked for a long time, a conversation that ran for 25 typed pages once it was transcribed, but the part I ended up using was about how comics readers applied a double standard to the work of her and her husband:

Similarly, the cartoonist Carol Tyler, who will publish the third and final volume of her remarkable graphic memoir You’ll Never Know this October, is frequently shunned by the fans of her husband, Justin Green. “A lot of people are disturbed that I talked about Justin walking out on me,” said Tyler, whose trilogy weaves together the stories of the near dissolution of her marriage with her father’s military service in World War II. “That was a shocker. ‘Justin Green, father of the autobiographical comic! Why would you show him leaving you like you he was a cad? We love him.’ I could feel the chill.”

It was a sorta gossipy detail, a flash in the context of many interesting things Tyler had said about her own work. I was using her observations to point to a sort of hypocrisy I see in how women’s autobio is received. But even as I made that point about sexism in comics, I was reinforcing sexism in comics by choosing to focus on her identity as a wife more than her work as a cartoonist. Worse, I realized it at the time—and did it anyway. It suited my purposes.

* * *

Looking at Tyler’s painting now, as I write, I think about how her identities of wife, mother, and cartoonist are inextricable. We don’t feel obligated to talk about Green as her husband in the same way, just as we don’t really talk about R. Crumb as Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s husband, or Art Spiegelman as Françoise Mouly’s husband. In comics conversations, these men are granted more autonomy as artists.

Or is that autonomy something men claim? Is there anything lonelier than men’s autobio? And why does it feel like that’s still held up as the ideal?

Recently, in an excellent review of the new edition of Soldier’s Heart (Tyler’s comic, formerly known as You’ll Never Know), Annie Mok describes Tyler’s work as a sort of answer to the “fuckboy approach to memoir comics.” Moved, I read an interview Mok linked to (a great conversation between Tyler and Tom Spurgeon), as well as a TCJ interview that was published around the same time. In both pieces, I was struck by Tyler’s descriptions of how tightly her life and work have been intertwined—which is, of course, a theme that’s also at the center of Soldier’s Heart

I thought, too, about a recent piece by my friend Tahneer Oksman, a comics scholar. In an essay about her new book, Tahneer talks about the myth that we should (or even can) separate our personal and professional lives. “In academia, as everyone knows, you’re not supposed to research for personal reasons,” she writes. “It quickly became apparent that writing about this literature, about Jewish women’s identity, was clearly a way for me to work out a lifelong puzzle.” And then this, a sentence that really resonated with me: “There comes a time when everyone has to face the fact that her career choices are, well, personal.”

This is an overgeneralization—of course it is—but I think men’s autobio conceives of “personal” as, like, granting passage to the inner sanctum of their special thoughts. “Personal” in women’s autobio looks more at relationships. Context. Connections.

I can’t think of anyone in comics whose work speaks to the intersection of life and art with more heart than Carol Tyler. I think, too, of other women in autobio who bring their own strengths and sensibilities to the same task. Alison Bechdel takes a cerebral approach. Phoebe Gloeckner’s is pure nerve. Lynda Barry’s is filtered through imagination. And Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s is…I don’t know. Like reading women’s magazines from hell.

There have long been remarkable comics made by these and other women whose careers and/or outputs don’t necessarily resemble those of their male counterparts. The paths they found shouldn’t be considered professional liabilities. They’re part and parcel of what makes them great.  

The new edition of Soldier’s Heart—which includes the three volumes of You’ll Never Know plus new pages—is available from Fantagraphics. You can read my 2012 interview with Carol Tyler after the jump. It’s been edited mostly for length, and lightly for clarity.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Matthieu Bonhomme presents 'The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke;' a 70th anniversary tribute

As regular readers of the blog will know, this is absolutely the kind of place where we gaze longingly over pages of beautiful comics in languages we can't read or understand. In that vein, today I'd like to share with you the stunning cover and a couple of pages from Matthieu Bonhomme's upcoming 'The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke.' Due to be published in French in late April, the Bonhomme volume -which he has also written- is intended as a stand-alone, tribute book in celebration of Lucky Luke's 70th anniversary, and is unrelated to the continuity of the main series, The Adventures of Lucky Luke. Bonhomme's typically gorgeous work may be familiar to English-language readers via the Fabien Vehlmann-penned The Marquis of Anaon (currently being released by Cinebook), or 2013's William and the Lost Spirit, with Gwen de Bonneval. Bonhomme counts himself as a childhood fan of the 'man who shoots faster than his shadow,' and it certainly looks like he'll be bringing a different tone to the lighter, more comedic atmosphere generally found in the Lucky Luke books. Bonhomme's masterful at backgrounds and environment and using them to imbue emotional notes and set a specific pitch -something which is clear from even the few pieces shown here. That it all looks so attractive is the cherry on the cake.

Created in 1946 by Belgian cartoonist Morris (Maurice De Bevere) as both a parody and an homage of the cowboy character prevalent in westerns, Lucky Luke began life as a strip in the pages of seminal French comics magazine, Spirou. In 1955, Morris began a working collaboration with René Goscinny (best known as the writer of Asterix) that would last for over 20 years and see the comics propelled to the peak of their success, and translated into 23 languages worldwide. Goscinny also directed and co-produced three animated Lucky Luke films, and the books have been subject to a number of live-action film adaptions -the most recent of which was in 2009 and starred Oscar-winning actor, Jean Dujardin- and cartoon series. The comics often reference various real and fictional western events and figures such as Calamity Jane, Jesse James, Billy the Kid; actors Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, and others, and the title of Bonhomme's book again suggests a spin on 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,' the 1962 film starring perhaps the man most famous for playing cowboys on screen: John Wayne.

In addition to the Bonhomme book, publishers Dargaud have planned a spate of events to mark Lucky Luke's 70th anniversary throughout 2016: another tribute book by Guillaume Bouzard, a major exhibition with over 100 of Morris' original artworks which launched at Angoulême (and will run until September); an art-reference book titled L'art de Morris ('The Art of Morris'), and a luxury reissue of Morris' Phil Defer, the 8th Lucky Luke adventure. A special edition of Spirou, devoted entirely to the character is also in the works, and various books in the series are to be offered at special low prices. The celebrations will culminate in a change on the main Lucky Luke adventures, with screenwriter Jul taking over the scripting reins, but will continue to be drawn by French artist Achdé, who has been illustrating the books since Morris' death in 2001. 

Need to know: Manjit Thapp

'Need to know' is a new feature that aims to get you quickly acquainted with cartoonists and illustrators of talent and interest, via a few questions and some examples of their work. Up first, an artist whose work I came came across towards the end of last year and became instantly enamoured with: Manjit Thapp, who you can find on Tumblr here, and on Instagram here.

Can you introduce yourself a little?
My name is Manjit Thapp, I’m 21 years old and live in the UK. I’m currently on my third and final year studying Illustration at UAL.

I read on your Tumblr that you only decided to pursue illustration (formally/as a degree) when choosing what to do after sixth-form. Did you take art at A-level? Did you draw, or have an interest in drawing, prior to that?
I’ve always been into drawing and art. I started taking it more seriously when I started secondary school though and ended up doing Art A Level. 

When did you start sharing you work on the internet? How helpful has it been to have an online presence?
I’ve been sharing my work for so long! I had a deviant art account when I was in Year 9, me and my friend both joined at the same time and we’d post all our embarrassing art work on there. Then eventually I got a tumblr and instagram. I’m really glad I started posting my work pretty young though, because I’d probably be too nervous or second guess posting it now. It motivated me to keep drawing and because of that my work’s developed so much.

There's a longstanding debate of the merits of formally studying art over being 'self-taught.' How are you finding your course?
My course has had it’s ups and downs, which is the case for pretty much everyone I think. Some of the briefs that I’ve worked on at uni have informed my work so much though and helped it grow because I’ve tried out things that I wouldn’t have before, like making comics. I think it’s really important to work on personal things alongside your course and not just rely solely on uni. I draw as often as I can.

Your work encompasses children's picture books, comics, fashion illustrations, editorials. Is there a particular area that's emerged as one you enjoy more than the others- one you'd like to focus on?
I don’t think I’d focus on just one, I like being able to work across different types of illustration. I really like sequence and narrative, it’s challenging but the end result is so rewarding. The fashion illustrations are fun too because I have an interest in that, and I like combining it with my art. I definitely would say I have interest in fashion and clothing and that ends up in my work. I love drawing and including bits of clothing I own or would want to own. |’m also inspired by music, sometimes I’ll be listening to a song and I’ll like the mood of it so I’ll try and translate that feeling into my work.

I actually don’t read that many comics! I’ve only recently begun drawing comics, but I like NoBrow’s comics  a lot. They release these magazines that all have a different theme that artists respond to, one half has illustrations and the other half short comics. It’s really great!

Do you draw digitally or analogue? Or a mix of the two?
I draw everything by hand with pencil because I like the texture of it and then add colour in Photoshop because I can experiment with colours without doing anything permanent.

There are a few recurring themes in your personal work- a liet motif of eyes, faces covered/turned away; a sense of spirituality and self. Almost holistic, especially combined with your sense of composition and placing. Do you find themes present themselves as you work, or is there a conscious choice to explore and include things?
I would say they present themselves mostly, I don’t like to over think my drawings too much. There are little ‘motifs’ that I find myself doodling a lot and they end up making their way into final drawings.

Another aspect I connect with in your work is the portrayal of big-browed South Asian brown girls, which honestly has been so affirming for me, because there is so little representation of that demographic in the British illustration and comics scene. Was that lack something you ever encountered/felt or gave thought to?
I think representation is so important, and the lack of it has been something I’ve been thinking a lot about. It sort of dawned on me that if I’m unhappy with the lack of it then I should do something about it in my own work; rather than wait for other people to do it, if that makes sense? It’s really nice when I get messages from people who say that they appreciate that too, it just reminds me how important it is.

What are you working on at the moment? Do you have anything in the pipeline for 2016?
Mostly uni work, but I’m also working on new things that I want to add to my online shop like new prints and hopefully some tote bags. Finishing uni mostly, once that’s done I really want to start devoting more time to freelancing and also to my online shop. Having the time to create new products is something I’m really looking forward to! I love seeing my artwork on things like t-shirts, bags, stickers etc so I’d love to collaborate with companies to do that.

Rounding up hourly comics day 2016

Hourly comics day took place this Monday, as it does every year on February 1st; an event which sees participating artists produce comics every hour over the course of the day. As you can imagine, that's quite the task, and as such the format isn't one that's strictly adhered to, with people breaking down how regularly and at what intervals they draw according to what suits them best. Most people choose to stick to autobiographical comics, narrating what's been happening in their life from hour to hour, with many a rumination  on the process itself. For comics fans, it means there's always a treasure trove of free comics to enjoy, and this year the quality seemed more exceptional than ever. I've gathered some of my favourites below (I like to wait until Friday to do this as I think it's nice to have a chunk of easy, solid Friday reading -and it gives cartoonists time to post their contributions together in one place), with links embedded in the artist names- click through to read all the comics in full; there's a few that will lead to Twitter and might require a bit of scrolling to get at.

Carolyn C. Novak:

Becca Tobin:

Vera Brosgol:

Aatmaja Pandya:

Laura Knetzger- part 1, part 2part 3:

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Maps to the Suns by Sloane Leong -part 1

I'm really pleased to introduce Maps to the Suns from the excellent Sloane Leong, a comic that will serialise monthly here, with new installments posted on the first Wednesday of each month. If you're a Comics & Cola Patreon backer, you'll have access to a pdf of each installment a week before it publishes on the blog. I want to refrain from attempting to describe it too much; instead I'm going to quote Sloane and call it a 'girls basketball drama,' and hope that you'll enjoy following it here. You can, however, read an interview with Sloane where she discusses sports comics and Maps to the Suns  in more detail over at The Comics Journal.

Comics shelfie: Lucie Bryon

Like many people, I first came across French cartoonist Lucie Bryon's work via her 2013 viral 'Introversion' comic -created as part of her degree-, and have been following her subsequent output via her Tumblr blog (which is the main place to find her comics and art), and on Twitter. One of the pleasures of keeping abreast of younger artists work, is that often you get to seem a more distinct progression and evolution than say someone who's developed a style and level of ability which they then refine in less visible ways. From warm and funny auto-bio comics to delicious and absorbing recipe comics, Bryon's comics are beautifully crisp and fresh, always engaging, and have simply gotten better and better -and I'm very grateful she posts them online in English as her published French-language work is inaccessible to me (here's hoping a savvy British/Canadian/US publisher puts out a collection of her strips soon)!

But for now, it's over to Lucie as she walks and talks us through her collection of books in the latest installment of comics shelfie:

'I’ve been reading comics for pretty much my whole life, my parents being big comics buyers too, and started buying and collecting my own as a teenager, mostly buying manga at the time, then gradually a lot of other stuff. The collection that I have here in Brussels started approximately 5 years ago when I moved here ( and only brought 4 or 5 comics with me), so most of my collection from my teenage years and first three years of college is at my parents home.

As I live with my boyfriend, we share the shelf space; at first we had two shelves each, but as time went by, the organization went out the window and now it’s more like "where can we fit more books ?" I’m a much more avid buyer then him though, so most of the space is taken by my books.

Even our coffee table is actually a shelf he built for me, turned into a table because we needed one and I thought it would look pretty neat. With time I also discovered that my friends love it, everytime they come by, they start reading whatever comics are on top. We mostly use it to store novels, manga, and books that have an unusual format, in a never-ending game of tetris. I also store my author copies of the kids books I illustrated; everytime I receive the box of 20 new author copies, I'm thrilled and freaked out at the same time; so I give most of them away to friends and family.

I’m really happy and weirdly proud about this thing. I found it at the flea market after searching for a very long time how I could store my zines; and it’s perfect. I can’t fit all of them in it since the slots are narrow, but it’s really great for displaying most of my favorite minis.

At the top of our shelves, we put all the art books and other gigantic collections that don’t fit anywhere else (like Chris Ware’s "Building Stories" and the Calvin & Hobbes collection).I do love sketchbooks and artbooks a lot, and dive into them whenever I feel low, to always discover something new. There’s also two books to learn Japanese here, I bought them very motivated and haven’t touched them ever since by lack of time. Knowing they’re here make me happy though, I’ll definitely get to it someday ! And finally, some toys and a little stand Valentin found on the street, that I use to display my favorite comic of the moment.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Valentine Gallardo's 'Soft Float': the empathetic evolution of the disaffection narrative [review]

There's an intrinsic sweetness to Valentine Gallardo's work, which is perhaps initially surprising considering all but one of the comics collected here were originally published for Vice magazine. Vice have a strong history of working with 'alternative' and 'indie' cartoonists, showcasing in particular comics of the disenfranchised variety: stoner/slackers in their 20's and 30's duffing, drinking, partying aimlessly; misunderstood and vaguely rebellious in a manner that's earnestly uncaring, and today feels a little dated. Gallardo's work encompasses those disaffection narratives, whilst also being symbolic of a generational shift in attitude and approach. So the group of friends in Soft Float navigate the usual fare of work, culture, society, and relationships; in addition to negotiating fulfillment, purpose, anxiety, and so forth. These latter subjects have long been present in alternative comics -but the manner in which they are discussed has changed. Where previously rebellion via disengagement extended from the outer world (rejecting systemic and social roles) to the self, here, examination and a level of interaction -both introspective and beyond, is key.

Many contemporary cartoonists are more contemplative in this area (to which growing awareness of mental health issues have likely impacted): the negotiation and function of both the individual and 'social' self. Broadly, this seems to have evolved from semi-ironic, fervent stoicism to people as process: from cryogenic awareness as end product, to looking to assess and improve. Gallardo's more empathetic prism typifies this shift. Even the threading of altered realities via drugs leans towards a reading of magic rather than overt tripping. Those aspects play to the inexplicablities and wonder of life -the strange, the ominous, the good- instead of any direct semblance of enlightenment. They mingle easily with a leavening modernity that grounds the comics whimsical elements.

The 6 comics here are in turn soft and sharp, something achieved through both tone and look. Gallardo's pencils combine and switch between precise spindliness and pressed smudges, moving from lush and dreamy to stark clarity. There's a tactile closeness to pencil, that makes the act of creating palpable and immediate (reinforced by rubbings and visible, early lines), as if you'd just been handed it- the transference of charcoal and pencil from fingers to page to the reader's hands. It's interesting to see how a plethora of aesthetic signifiers from European alt-comics tradition come together and are reshaped in Gallardo's hands: short, stocky figures, a mixture of human, animal, and plant creatures; triangle noses, rounded blush cheeks -a folk infusion that stretches from Ingrid Vang Nyman and Tove Jansson to Disa Wallander, Coco Mooyson and Anouck Ricard. Every now and again Gallardo will conjure an expression and face that's so utterly satisfying; so fully the concept of what it's supposed to represent: the upturned tilt of mischievous anticipation (in the 3rd panel of the second page below) or a disgruntled storming off (in the 4th panel of the last image).

As comforting as the degree of recognition in Gallardo's stories is, there's a sliver of opening in each in which interpretation and imagination prickles. Take 'Magic Night,' which begins around a campfire in the woods, as drinks and dares are passed. A mysterious foodstuff, 'a spellwich loaf,' is introduced into the equation, despite warnings against ingestion. Despite the progression of the narrative, the imagery of the final page of abandoned, prone figures sleeping on a hillside is also somewhat sudden and ominous. 'Goodbye Carlos' is a scathingly pithy commentary on systemic misogny set at a work leaving party, made all the more powerful because the reader is cut off from participation, and left to simply watch. There are no traditional 'conversations,' instead events unfold via thin, insidious speech bubbles that spew a litany of phrases and snatched words (and some significant pictograms).'Ugly Bastard,' reflects the complexities of abuse and hypocrisy with humour and a dollop of strangeness, while 'I Fly So Low' is a beautifully paced piece on accepting feeling good, bad, and in-between, with equal embrace.

Fundamentally, Soft Float's excellence lies in its cohesiveness of vision. Gallardo's ability to tell stories in which style, tone, philosophy, and emotion coalesce into conveying fully a particular kind of language and expression results in a book that feels the absolute fulcrum of what it set out to achieve.

With pound in hand: February comic and graphic novel releases

Picking out the cream of this month's releases in graphic novels, collected editions and anything else notable (please note- release dates are subject to change).

PICK OF THE MONTH: Princess Jellyfish by  Akiko Higashimura, Kodansha: Akiko Higashimura's Princess Jellyfish gets a much anticipated English language translation, with the first book in the series releasing this month. The comic currently runs to 15 volumes in its original Japanese, and Kodansha (having acquired the license to publish the first 12 volumes) will be publishing the English-language editions as large format, 2-in-1 omnibuses, complete with color page selections and bonus special features. The official copy for the book doesn't really give you much to go on, but I'm excited for it having seen Higashimura's art and pages, and from what I've read about the tone: 'Tsukimi Kurashita has a strange fascination with jellyfish. She's loved them from a young age and has carried that love with her to her new life in the big city of Tokyo.  There, she resides in Amamizukan, a safe-haven for girl geeks who regularly gush over a range of things from trains to Japanese dolls. However, a chance meeting at a pet shop has Tsukimi crossing paths with one of the things that the residents of Amamizukan have been desperately trying to avoid - a fashionable socialite! But there's much more to this woman than her trendy clothes. Their odd encounter is only the beginning of a new and unexpected path for Tsukimi and her friends.'

Big Kids by Michael DeForge, Drawn & Quarterly: I'll always look into anything Michael DeForge puts into print (not as good at keeping up with digital/online work) due to his ability to create a completely immersive and singular visual language, in both function and form. This new longform comic is a bildungsroman of sorts: the story of a troubled teenage boy as he navigates the transformative years of high school, although anybody with passing familiarity of DeForge's unsettling, vividly beautiful comics will know that's most likely a deceptively simple summation.... 'When the boy's uncle, a police officer, gets kicked out of the family's basement apartment and transferred to the countryside, April moves in. She's a college student, mysterious and cool, and she quickly takes a shine to the boy. The boy's own interests quickly fade away: he stops engaging in casual sex, taking drugs, and testing the limits of socially acceptable (and legal) behavior. Instead, he hangs out with April and her friends, a bunch of highly evolved big kids who spend their days at the campus swimming pool. And slowly, the boy begins to change, too.' 

Corto Maltese: Celtic Tales by Hugo Pratt, IDW: I'm a new reader to Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese, which is no doubt one of the purposes of these reprints from IDW. My feelings for the first volume are well-documented, but the stories in the second felt more disparate in both order and quality. Regardless, I'll still be picking up the third and latest installment of the rakish sailor's adventures, as the action moves from South America to Europe against the backdrop of the First World War. It looks like Pratt's incorporating even more 'real-life' historical figures into his stories, something I'm not the biggest fan of, but isn't a deal-breaker where his gorgeous art and deft touch is concerned. 'In these six stories Pratt further explores such complicated themes as patriotism and greed, revolution and opportunism, and betrayal and seduction. Events take Corto from a small island in the Venetian lagoon, where he comes face to face with a beautiful blonde spy, to Stonehenge and an adventure with Merlin, Morgana, and Puck. Along the way he meets Ernest Hemingway and future billionaire Aristotle Onassis, Irish revolutionary Banshee O'Danann, the legendary Red Baron, and an intense cast of characters who weave in and out of a series of labyrinthine plots and counter-plots.'

Orange 1 by  Ichigo Takano, Seven Seas: This is another manga series I've heard curiosity-igniting murmurings of. Complete collections are hugely preferable to me as a reader: a good chunk of story, no hanging about for further volumes. The premise sees 16-year old Takamiya Naho receive a mysterious letter, claiming to be from her 27-year old self, and informing her to keep an eye on a new transfer student by the name of Naruse Kakeru who will soon be joining her class. 'What is Naho to make of the letter's contents and its cryptic warning?' This seems to be one of those 'what if you could change the past' scenarios, but I'm interested to see what it does and where it goes- something about it gives me The Girl Who Leapt Through Time vibes, which if it's as good, I'll be happy with.

Under: Volume 1: Monsters Beneath by Stefano Raffaele and Christophe Bec, Titan: I'm a sucker for a good creature feature (see: those B-list Leo Cinebook comics), and this looks like it could fit the bill. 'For Lieutenant Wilson Jericho, Hell is real: and it's in the sewers of the sprawling city Megalopol, where, as an officer of the Sewer Police, he's responsible for ensuring the the bowels of the city run smoothly. He knows everything there is to know about the underworld, which is why he's chosen to serve as tour guide for Sandra Yeatman, a young scientist who aims to prove the truth of legends about the strange wildlife in the sewers. Soon, Jericho finds that there is still much for him to learn, as they discover an invasion of mutant spiders ready to tear the city apart...' Spiders are always creepier when they're so small though, right?

Amulet 7: Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi, Graphix:  Kazu Kibuishi confirmed last year that the story of Amulet would wrap up at 9 volumes, so at number 7 the series is fast coming to a head; Kibuishi's pacing and movement between characters and plotlines in books 1-5 was exemplary, but 6 and 7 have felt too full and slightly disengaging. That aside, it remains a very good series, and one that's hugely popular with its demographic (Fox have picked up the film rights to it). The story centers on Emily, a young girl who moves with her younger brother and mother into their great-grandfather’s house after the death of their father, where the family discover a small door in the basement leading to an alternate world of demons, robots, elves, and intelligent animals. It's a land to which their grandfather was familiar, and one that's at war- a war to which their destinies appear tied. 'Emily, Trellis, and Vigo visit Algos Island, where they can access and enter lost memories. They're hoping to uncover the events of Trellis's mysterious childhood -- knowledge they can use against the Elf King. What they discover is a dark secret that changes everything. Meanwhile, the voice of Emily's Amulet is getting stronger, and threatens to overtake her completely.'

The Boy and the Beast by Mamoru Hosoda, Yen Press: This is a straight adaptation of Mamoru Hosoda's 2015 animated film of the same name- a hardback treatment much like Hosoda's Wolf Children (it looks like there's also a paperback version releasing on the same date, although it has a different cover and is listed as a 'volume 1'). I've been meaning to watch the film- it looks great, but I like reading film to comic adaptations -particularly animation- in a way that doesn't work for me if reversed.  'Tokyo's a big city - big enough that it's easy for a grieving boy like Ren to slip through the cracks. But Ren slips a little farther than he meant to, ending up in the beast world of Jutengai! He ends up with a new name - Kyuta -and a new life as the apprentice of the bear Kumatetsu, learning the way of the sword. Kumatetsu's got problems of his own, though, and the boy and the beast may have more to learn from each other than they realize. But the boy's arrival in the realm of the beasts has put both their worlds in danger, and they're going to need more than life lessons to face it!'

Also releasing: Last Man 4: The Show, Assassination Classroom vol 8